All my life I’ve worked with goal-setting, and ticking things off the list from time to time to mark their accomplishment. But while the goals had to have an action plan, a lot of willpower to achieve and a lot of focus so that I don’t forget about details – all of it so that in the end, ticking that goal as accomplished to not bring in as much joy as I’ve expected. So next time I dealt with another goal, it got even harder to start working towards it as I knew how hard it is, and how much willpower and motivation I really needed.
This was till recently when I’ve discovered the power of the systems – by stumbling on some articles talking about Scott Adam’s book “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life”. I realized this is a much healthier way of working and it’s a more realistic way to actually achieve your wishes.
What are goals vs. systems?
A goal is “the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result” (Google definition). A goal is an end result you need to work towards and do various things during a usually long period of time in order to get it accomplished. Further to setting a goal, you usually go through a process of maybe setting smaller goals and then tasks and then plan each task with a deadline and so on. And what happens very often is that things change and the goal or the timeline changes as well. So all the planning process needs to be started all over again or adjusted.
Systems are the things you do every day on a strict regular basis so that eventually you get to the goal. The goal can change, your system might change as well – but there’s no wasted effort and resources in doing all the initial planning. Nothing is demotivating, nothing challenges your willpower and most of all, none of your work so far is in vain.
Let’s take some examples to understand better what I mean.
Let’s take the goal of learning to code. This is not something easy as you have no background nor studies in the software development area, so instead of focusing on the goal expecting it to happen at some point, you should rather split this big goal into small things you can do daily, such as:
- Look for relevant resources and tutorials
- Read 10 pages from the “learning to code” book you have purchased for this
- Do 5 exercises everyday with what you have read on that day
- Test your knowledge after each day
Another goal that is also quite difficult cu achieve for many of us is losing 5 kilos. This is a goal that requires a lot of willpower to eat less and healthier and exercise in the same time. That is why so many goals regarding the weight loss are not accomplished. Here, the idea is to replace these hard milestones with learning to play smart and actually liking it. A system that would get you closer to this goal is:
- Do not drink soda anymore – replace with water or tea
- Do not eat after 8 pm anymore (or 6 pm if you can do it)
- Do not eat chocolate anymore as snacks, but replace it with fruits
- Start exercising every day – whatever exercise you feel like doing (biking to work or walking up the stairs are good options)
What I personally love the most about working with systems instead of goals is that while working daily to attain something, that something might be even better than you’ve expected. Like in the example above, learning to code might actually trigger an app idea which you will eventually develop – so the goal of learning to code was actually replaced with the one of building an app, and that was something you were not only proud about, but helped you make some more money and land some new projects that were really what you were after and looking for.
Losing weight through a system can mean that besides accomplishing the initial goal, you might discover how much you enjoy eating healthier and you might change this forever in your life. Or, you can discover a new sport that will soon become your passion.
When you (still) need goals?
There are things that need to have a clear output and a clear date for that output – such as finishing the law (or any) school, or a software project with clear specifications and a clear delivery date and so on. For these kind of work, we need goals and we need to keep them. The idea is, in the end, to focus more on the process of getting there than on the end result (and that is what systems are all about) – so that you can enjoy the process more and be happy with the daily accomplishments.
That is, systems for me means opening a door to endless possibilities of achieving it and so much more on the way – while a goal is restrictive and I feel anything but excited when I have to deal with one. Of course there are exceptions, but I definitely try to replace as many goals with systems now. How about you? Willing to give it a try?